When calamity hits and our world feels as though it has collapsed out from under us, fear seems to be the only sane response to the uncontrolled free-fall that overwhelms us. It is, to be sure, the default response. There may come a time when, in our despair, we cry out to God, “What’s going on here? Do you even care?”
And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But [Jesus] was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
– Mark 4:37-38, ESV
What I find fascinating about this event, is that in a classic C.S. Lewis – Narnian fashion, Jesus spoke to the wind and the waves. More than that, he rebuked the wind. Who does that?
People who hug trees are mocked and derided. Those who talk to their plants are sometimes snickered at and looked at suspiciously with a sideways glance, yet here is Jesus scolding the wind and speaking to waves of water, telling them to behave themselves.
There are those who teach that Jesus rebuked the disciples, but I don’t see that happening in the text. Scripture does not say he rebuked them, so if he did, it was a very gentle rebuke. Still others will look at this and morph the fear of the disciples into some sort of sin. Nothing in this text indicates that the disciples were sinning by being afraid. The text says Jesus neither rebuked the disciples nor chastised them for sin, but rather that he spoke to them. He questioned them. “Why are you so afraid?”
Clearly, Jesus did not believe there was cause for alarm. Yet, these seasoned fishermen, men who had faced dozens of fierce storms on that very sea (the Sea of Galilee) were afraid for their lives. This is an attestation to the severity of this particular storm, yet Jesus said it was not a cause for alarm.
If a storm that literally threatens our very lives is not a cause for alarm, then what is?
Perhaps that is the very thing that Jesus is driving at. There is nothing that should cause us to fear. We do fear, and Jesus knows that, but his message is that our fears are not necessary. We rest in Jesus’ perfect love, and perfect love casts out fear.1
When Jesus rebuked the wind and the waves, Matthew’s account of the event records the response of the disciples, “What manner of man is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him.”2 We would have been awe-struck as well.
When Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that his friend, Lazarus, was near death, Jesus did not spring into action to save Lazarus, but rather “stayed where he was two days longer.”3 Jesus seemed not to care. He wasn’t even that far from where Lazarus was.
It could be argued that our own death is the worst calamity we can face. That was certainly the fear of the disciples as they battled the storm while Jesus slept in the back of the boat. The apostle Paul tells us that death is the “last enemy” to be destroyed,4 but he does not call it the greatest enemy.
When both Mary and Martha told Jesus that had he been there, Lazarus would not have died, seemingly complaining about his delay, Jesus replied: “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”5
In Matthew’s gospel, we read of a Canaanite woman who came to Jesus to plead on behalf of her demon-possessed daughter. In what appears to be calloused indifference, Jesus says nothing to her initially, not a word. But she persists and Jesus appears to insult her – calling her a dog. Still, she persists, and it is then that Jesus says to her “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.”.6
Similar examples abound in scripture, both Old and New Testaments, where calamity strikes and God seems terribly distant. Childless couples, warriors surrounded by enemies, widows with ill or dead children, soldiers with deathly-ill servants . . . “and Jesus felt compassion for [them].”
But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God,
slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.
– Mark 4:37-38, ESV
1. 1 John 4:18
2. Matthew 8:27
3. John 11:6
4. 1 Corinthians 15:26
5. John 11:40
6. Matthew 15:21-28